Mastering the 3 Ms

Prasad Sangameshwaran | Updated on January 16, 2018

Finding common ground: Music has a lot to teach those charged with explaining market research and maths to brand managers.


Music, marketing and mathematics can combine beautifully to create a million possibilities

Marketing today is on the threshold of change. In the past, marketing as we knew it was largely dominated by 30-second TV spots and other mass media such as print, outdoor, radio and so on. The number-crunching only came into play while deciding which medium to back in the advertising campaign and for what price to buy the media.

But, look around today and there are the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and others who apply complex algorithms such as Page Rank, Adsense, marketing mix modelling, content marketing and so on along with technology (analytics, digital marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) to make marketing a lot more data-driven. Similarly, in music the magic of maths plays a huge role.

As a musician, Padma Vibhushan Umayalpuram K Sivaraman has an accomplished career of nearly 71 years – he debuted at the age of 10 and has been seen and played with the best musicians across the years. His son has been one of the earliest adopters of marketing analytics in India. cat.a.lyst brings you a conversation between the legendary mridangam vidwan and his son S Swaminathan, Co-Founder & CEO of Hansa Cequity, a major customer marketing & analytics firm, on the cross-learnings from music, maths and marketing.

Swami: When I started in marketing, it was largely a right-brained creative profession. One came up with a marketing strategy, ad campaign, below-the-line programmes and everything revolved around it. But, now a lot of mathematics is being used in marketing. Music, similarly, is thought to be a creative profession, but there is a lot of maths inside to enhance the sweet notes that emanate from great musicians.

Umayalpuram K Sivaraman: When you play a solo, there is a lot of mathematics at play. But you have to present it better, you have to simplify mathematics for the common man.

The innate intelligence in the music of yesteryear is quite amazing. Music is a manipulation and combination of mathematical patterns extending a vast area where you can bring in creativity. Similarly, when you take ragas, it’s said that there are about 24,000 ragas and there are thousands of varieties of talas. By permutations and combinations of these swaras, the masters were able to evolve a great repertoire in the art of music. Mathematics played a greater part in the production of thousands of ragas and talas.

Swami: You can use complicated maths when you play music but play it simply to soothe the ears. In our business in marketing, we can build complex analytical models. But, to reach the clients and get their attention, we should present it simply as they are not interested in statistics but insights and outcomes.

UKS: It’s akin to a rasika (fan/connoisseur) who is enjoying the beautiful music that flows from the musicians that is fused together with different ragas and talas and gives the listener a lot of joy. As an artist, you may know a lot of things, but you have to be like the orator who can convey the message to the common people with ease.

Swami: Similarly, in our business, we hire a lot of statisticians. The problem is that they do a lot of mathematical analyses that the person on the other side does not understand. So, we have to present it simply for everyone to grasp. Music provides a lot of inspiration.

UKS: Complications arise only from simple things. In our tala system there is chatusra (four), thisra (three), misra (seven), kanda (five) and sankeerna (nine). All of this is permutation and combination. Four is a permanent number. Reduce one to get three and then add four, it becomes seven. Cut four into two and add three, it becomes five and then add four and five to make it sankeerna. When you go to the core – when you play four, there is no three. When you play three, there is no four. From four everything emanates and into four everything vanishes.

Swami: Analysts in our business talk about techniques such as logistic regression, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and so on. But, the truth is, you need to understand the foundation of business, and, of course, statistics, to explain the variables and their effects. It needs be explained lucidly with the marketing impact that it can have on a business. How did that regression work, how do you predict that some customer will buy, somebody will churn, somebody will renew his subscription or policy, and so on. Again, it may be complicated techniques used, but one needs to understand the foundation and present it in a simple manner to clients.

UKS: Music is also about understanding the pulse of the people. There was a time when a single concert would run for almost 5-6 hours. Then, people wanted a variety – so the musicians of those days such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar from Carnatic music or Hindustani stalwarts such as Pandit Ravishankar presented different varieties that pleased a lot of people. In a national programme, Ariyakudi had the capability to compress all of this into 90 minutes.

All marketing strategies keep changing with changing customer attitudes. So we have to change along with the requirements of the people.

Swami: In marketing too, you identify the need and then deliver the solution and keep adapting them over time. That’s the key. Today, we have short videos and the ability to measure them too. The other important thing that we keep talking today is that marketing is all about storytelling and conversations. Music is also about conversations.

There are many times when silence is music. So, marketing messages also need to have what we call contact policy, meaning how many times ideally should brands touch a customer in this era of pervasive digital marketing. So, one needs to balance the art and science of marketing to be successful.

UKS: In music you call it vishranti, where the musician gives some pauses. We should allow people to react, whether they are appreciating and liking all the things that we are offering. The economic theory of diminishing marginal utility comes into play. It always sounds good when it is served right to their ears – not too much, not too little! Whenever there is some expectation, one must stop there.

While accompanying KVN (KV Narayanaswamy, one of the legendary Carnatic musicians of this era), I just kept the rhythm – no complicated mathematics and fast phrases. There were lyrical beauties, where you must allow the audience to enjoy the lyrics. And then you must give a pause and re-enter with a bang.

When you do that, people will acknowledge your presence. But, the important point is you must know when to enter, when to play, when not to play, how to play and impress – these are all strategies that many musicians deploy.

Swami: There is a lot analytics can learn from music. We should not complicate when it can be done simply. Also, knowing when to apply simple descriptive analysis to make the point and when to apply predictive analysis is important. In analytics, we do a lot of predictive modelling – what is this customer going to buy, how do we optimise the pricing or cross-sell to, and such.

(To be concluded)

This is the first in a series where music meets marketing.

Published on December 08, 2016

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